I have been a guest lecturer, instructor, and mock interviewer at half a dozen Chicago coding bootcamps over the past several years, so students frequently ask me what they should do after they finish their bootcamp. While I enjoy talking with graduates about their specific goals and challenges, I figured I would compile a starting point of all the advice I typically share with new coding bootcamp graduates.
While I didn’t attend a coding bootcamp myself, I am a self-taught software developer, so I can relate to the challenges that new graduates face. I’ve also hired a few bootcamp graduates and talked with countless others in job interviews and meetups, so I’ve gotten to know many bootcamp success stories over the years.
Here’s what I’ve seen work:
Students who set themselves up for post-bootcamp success usually start building skills, networking, and job-hunting long before graduation.
Don’t just hope to run into the right people at a meetup; build a process, follow-up consistently, and do things for other people. Here’s how I did it early in my career:
- I’d find an event or meetup with a speaker I wanted to meet.
- I’d go to the event and introduce myself to the speaker afterward if possible.
- The next week, I’d follow up with an email to get a one-on-one meeting or call.
- At the meeting, I’d have thoughtful questions. People love talking about themselves.
- I added the person to my quarterly contact list and just stayed in touch.
This approach let me skip doing job interviews for most of my career.
Learn one programming language and (at most) 2 frameworks to start. Go deep first; you can widen out later in your career.
The same advice goes for projects.
Build a real web app, start to finish. Don’t keep building little one-off helper scripts. Pick one big project and stick with it. Set yourself a roadmap, iterate on the application, and show employers that you have the persistence to stick with one big thing rather than chasing a million little things.
If you don’t want to start your own, take a look at some open-source projects and make a pull request. Start small by improving documentation or test coverage and slowly figure out how to read existing codebases.
Before you graduate, come up with a list of 10 or fewer companies you want to work at. Pick what matters to you: industry, pay rate, prestige, tech stack. It doesn’t matter if they have a job listing or not. Focus on places you want to work and getting to know people at them.
The best job openings go to internal recommendations before they even get published.
The first job is the hardest. Plan on 3-6 months of searching, or 6-12 months if you’re picky or can’t devote 40+ hours/week to it.
1/3 of your time should go towards networking and meeting people, 1/3 of your time towards learning new things, and 1/3 of your time applying/interviewing/coding challenges.
Rather than cold applying to dozens of jobs every week, focus on getting a meeting with someone at one of your target companies every week. Then, stay in touch, talk to others at the company, get to know them. When they have a new opening, you want to be the first person they think of.
But don’t expect it to get you a job on its own. It’s basically just a checkbox for most recruiters. Don’t spend money on it, and don’t perseverate on it. Networking is a much better use of your time overall.
Also, if you actually want a particular job, write a personalized cover letter. So few people do this that it will make a big impact.
Most people don’t find a job the moment they graduate, and if they do it’s more likely an apprenticeship than a permanent role. Very few developers are actually ready for a job after just a few weeks of coding, so it’s important to keep learning, even after you graduate.
While I personally dislike whiteboard interviews, they’re commonplace, so get used to them. You’ll get better over time, but you do need to practice.
You also might want to try a free course like A Beginner’s Guide to Open Source Software Development or a low-cost online course like The Cloud Engineer Bootcamp offered by the Linux Foundation.
If you’re desperate, you might have to take a job with a few of them. I’ve done it. You’ll be fine. Just stay a year and keep an eye out for a new one.
Another way to catch red flags is through backdoor interviews.
Reach out to someone who previously worked at the company and ask them what it’s really like inside. You’ll get some interesting intel most of the time.
Staying in shape is a long-term investment in yourself and your career. I know it seems easy to take a pass on working out when you’re job hunting, but don’t. It’ll help you keep your confidence up and give you a reason to wake up and shower every day.
Eventually, you will find something. Maybe it’s in tech support or quality assurance or some developer-adjacent role that’s not ideal. That’s okay, you can still make progress in your career without taking a straight line to every job you want. Here’s what you need to work on in the first year:
Develop some expertise or a unique mashup of skills that makes you a niche problem-solver. Don’t call yourself a “programmer” but instead focus on delivering meaningful business value through your work.
No matter how senior you get, you can’t coast in this industry.
Early in your career, you need to spend time learning things that you don’t have time to learn at work. I typically recommend 10-15 hours per week.
You don’t have to write anything profound, but writing is the best way to increase your career influence.
At some point, you should move on. Whether you get promoted within the same company or you leave for greener pastures, no role is going to be there for you forever.
Test-drive companies instead of doing job interviews, learn on your employer’s dime, and do more than just work. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s worked really well for me.
Your career is long and there are lots of interesting branches you can take.
I recently transitioned from being a startup CTO to a writer and business owner.
The technical skills you develop as a software engineer can carry over into many other areas. Don’t be afraid to be creative and cultivate weird combinations of skills.